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it out so well as we can ; so perhaps we may save somewhat, we shall at least be busy till a better come. • Put thy trust in the Lord, and be doing good,' is the psalmist's advice in such a case; and it is a practice necessary to the procuring and maintaining content; if we be not otherwise well employed, we shall be apt, in our thoughts, to melancholise, and dote on our mischances, the sense of them will fasten on our spirits, and gnaw our hearts,
6. We should behave ourselves fairly and kindly toward the instruments and abettors of our adversity; toward those who brought us into it, and those who detain us under it, by keeping off relief, and those who forbear to afford the succor we might expect; forbearing to express any wrath or displeasure, to exercise any revenge or enmity toward them ; but rather, even on that score, bearing good-will, and expressing kindness toward them; not only as to our brethren, whom, according to the general law of charity, we are bound to love, but as to the servants of God in this particular case, and the instruments of his pleasure toward us; considering that by maligning or molesting them we do express ill resentments of God's dealing with us, and in effect, through their sides, do wound his providence: thus did the good king behave himself toward Shimei, when he was bitterly reproached and cursed by him; not suffering (on this account, because he was God's instrument of afflicting himself) that any harm should be done unto him : thus the holy Apostles being reviled, did bless ; being defamed, did entreat: thus our Lord demeaned himself toward his spiteful adversaries; who, when he was reviled, did not revile again;
. when he suffered, he did not threaten ; but committed it to him that judgeth righteously.' In all these cases we should at least observe the rules and advices of the wise man: 'Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me, I will render to the man according to his work; say thou not, I will recompense evil ; but wait on the Lord, and he shall save thee.'
Discontent usually consisteth not so much in displeasure for the things we suffer, as at the persons who bring them on us, or who do not help to rid us from them; it is their presumed injury or discourtesy which we do fret at: such passions therefore toward men being discarded, our evils presently will be
come supportable, and content easily will ensue. As men in any sickness or pain, if their friends are about them, affording comfort or assistance, do not seem to feel any thing, and forbear complaining; so, if the world about us doth please us, if we bear no disaffection or grudge toward any person in view, our adversity will appear less grievous, it will indeed commonly be scarce sensible to us.
In these and such like acts the duty and virtue of contentedness doth especially reside; or it is employed and exercised by them : and so much may suffice for the explication of its nature. I come now to consider the way of attaining it, intimated by St. Paul here, when he saith, I have learned.'
SUMMARY OF SERMON XXXVIII.
PHILIPPIANS, CHAP. IV,VERSE 11.
These words signify how contentedness may be attained, or how it may be produced : it is not an endowment innate to us, &c., but it is a product of discipline; I have learned.
It was a question of Plato, whether virtue is to be learned, St. Paul plainly resolves it by the testimony of his experience. It however requires great resolution and diligence in conquering our desires; hence it is an art which few study. Yet it is not, like the quadrature of the circle, impossible to be learned ; since there are examples, rules, and precepts leading to this most excellent piece of learning. But how may this skill be gained ? In three ways. 1. By understanding the rules and precepts in which the practice consists. 2. By diligent exercise. 3. By seriously considering those rational inducements which are apt to persuade us to the practice. This last the point now insisted on. Arguments drawn from various heads.
I. In regard to God, we may consider that equity exacts, gratitude requires, and reason dictates that we should be conteut; or that, in being discontented, we behave ourselves unbeseemingly and unworthily, are very unjust, ungrateful, and foolish towards him.
1. The point of equity considered, according to the gospel rule, Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine oun?
2. That of gratitude; inasmuch as we have no right or title
to any thing; all we have coming from God's pure bounty, and all events designed by him for our good, &c.
3. That of reason; because it is most reasonable to acquiesce in God's choice of our state, be being infinitely more wise, and infinitely better understanding what is good for us, than we ourselves; because he loves us better than we love ourselves; has a just and irresistible right to dispose of us as he pleases, &c.
II. Again, reflecting on ourselves, we may observe much reason to be content with our state.
As men and creatures, we are naturally indigent and impotent; we have no just claim to any thing, nor any possession maintainable by our power; all we have comes from most pure courtesy and bounty ; wherefore how little soever is allowed us, we have no wrong done us, and no reason to complain.
And on a moral account we have still less; for we deserve nothing but evil : if we rightly estimate ourselves, any thing will seem good enough for us, any condition better than we deserve: nor can any thing be more absurd than to see men so deeply indebted, sinners so obnoxious to wrath, complaining of their condition in this life. If therefore we must be displeased, and lust to complain, let us accuse ourselves, and deplore our sins, rather than bewail our fortune. We
may also consider ourselves as servants to God, or rather as slaves, absolutely subject to his disposal: and shall a mere servant, or slave, presume to choose his place, or determine his rank in the fainily? Is it not fit that these things should be left to the Master's discretion and pleasure ? Especially when we consider what servants we are, who, after we have done all things commanded us, must acknowlege that we profitable.
Again, if we consider ourselves as the children of God by birth and nature, or by adoption and grace, how can we be discontented with any thing ? Have we not thence great reason to
hope that we shall never want any good thing necessary or convenient for us, and that no great evil shall ever oppress us ? For is not God by paternal disposition inclined, is he not by paternal duty engaged, on all needful occasions to supply and succor us?
If we consider ourselves as Christians, we have still more reason to practise this duty: as such, we are not only possessed of goods abundantly sufficient to satisfy our desires; have hopes able to raise our minds above the sense of all present things, &c.; but we have also an assurance of competent supplies of temporal blessings; for godliness is profitable to all things, &c.
Again, if we reflect on ourselves as rational men, how can we for shame be discontented ? Is it not the proper work of prevent things hurtful or offensive
when that can be done; to remove them, if they are removable ; and, if neither can be compassed, to allay and mitigate them, so that we may be able well to support them? Is it pot the use of reason to quell those troublesome passions which create to us disquiet and displeasure ? If it cannot do this, to what purpose do we possess it? Is not our condition worse than that of the brute beasts, if reason serves only to acquaint us with trouble, but cannot enable us to bear it?
Wherefore considering ourselves, our capacities, our relations, our actions, it is most reasonable to be content with our condition, and with whatever may befal us.